In 2004, curator Chrissie Iles invited Cattelan to participate in the Whitney Biennial. The Italian prankster decided, instead of creating a piece for the exhibition, why not destroy an existing artwork? (see Take a Peek at Art World Prankster Maurizio Cattelan’s Documentary).
What happened next remains highly contested and has turned into somewhat of an art world tall tale. Iles and Cattelan claim that they flattened,with a steamroller, a 2000 life-sized wax statue of the artist seated at a table with his head in a bowl of spaghetti. A similar self-portrait sculpture sold at Sotheby’s for nearly $8 million in 2010.
In the New Yorker article, Iles said the work was “very dramatic,” whilst Cattelan compared it to a cartoon where “you have the coyote run over, and then he comes out completely flat,” he said.
Apparently the remains of the sculpture were entombed beneath the second floor of the museum’s old upper east side building, where it remained until a concrete block, purportedly containing the statue, was exhumed several weeks ago for reburial in a wall of the Whitney’s new digs in the Meatpacking district (see The One Must-See Art Event in New York This Week: Opening of the New Whitney Museum and An Exclusive Walk Through the New Whitney Museum Building).
If you think the whole thing seems implausible, you’re not alone. Art critic Jerry Saltz called it an “alleged burial.” The fact that only Iles, Cattelan and a few art handlers witnessed the burial only adds to the mystery.
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